Reviewed by Tyler R. Tichelaar for Reader Views (5/07)
"Foot Ways," by Lynn Veach Sadler, is one of the most creative, whimsical, and enjoyable books I have read in recent years. It is a short book, but one written with a true precision of language and thought.
The novel is divided into five chapters, told alternately by Mary, her mother Polly, and Dan Asher. The story begins with Mary speaking as a young girl about the fuss the women of her community, including her mother, make when Mr. Rufe annually visits the community every spring. Mary, taking cues from her father, decides she hates Mr. Rufe, partly because Mr. Rufe gets more attention than her, partly because her family allows him to stay in her playhouse, and partly for darker reasons Mary can only sense without putting into words. Later, Mary's mother Polly speaks about her own history. While the entire book is enjoyable, Polly's narrative if definitely the most entertaining as she describes her upbringing and ultimately her marriage. The book then focuses on Dan Asher, a new character, who tells his own coming-of-age story which oddly enough revolves around the fact that his father is probably the only man who ever derived a foot fetish as the result of reading the Bible. Dan's involvement with Polly will later change her life.
I do not wish to go into too much detail about the plot for fear I will give it away. I will, however, say that this book is remarkably unique in its humor. It reads like a fable or old wives' tale. I felt as if I were alternately reading Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market," James Joyce's "Finnegan's Wake," old Scottish ballads, and Southern Gothic literature. Sadler creates moments of the grotesque such as Polly's father selling tickets for people to see her mother dying of cancer. People come from all over to see "The Woman Eaten Up," and when single men come, Polly hides for fear her father will force her into marriage with one. For me, the book's highlight was when Polly performed at the "Annual Masonic Lodge Number Fourteen Spring Jubilee Barbecue and Chicken Stew Supper and Theatrical Performance Tribute." That name alone suggests the whimsicalness of the event where people in the community go looking for a bit of culture. What happens at the (it bears repeating) "Annual Masonic Lodge Number Fourteen Spring Jubilee Barbecue and Chicken Stew Supper and Theatrical Performance Tribute" is the true climax of the novel.
My only criticism is that I thought the ending a bit rushed, and I would have liked to see more about Mary's relationship with Mr. Rufe. A few questions remained unanswered at the end, although that may strengthen the aura of mystery throughout the tale.
Besides being a talented novelist, the author, Lynn Veach Sadler, is also a poet and prize-winning playwright. Somehow she found the time to be president of a college, travel around the world five times, and still master the art of dialogue to a degree few writers achieve. Her characters' voices draw the reader in with the first few sentences, making the book difficult to put down. The reader reads not only to find out what Mr. Rufe's attraction is to the women of the community, but also because Sadler's prose is as seductive as having one's foot kissed. I recommend "Foot Ways" to everyone and intend to read more of Sadler's work soon.
Received book free of charge.